20,000 free art images from LACMA
The Los Angeles Community Museum of Art is allowing 20,000 of their images to be used for free for any purpose. They even offer an easy download link on each image to grab the highest-resolution file. All the images are of artwork from before 1925, so it's work that is already in the public domain.
This is the vision that art museums should take. Not hoarding their artwork, but sharing their artwork. If the artwork is in the public domain, shouldn't all museums allow people to use the images? Sadly, no. The museums own the copyright to the photo of the artwork. You can't use their nice clean sharp photo of the artwork. But you can go to the museum yourself and take a photo and use that. But often our personal museum photos are blurry, dark, or yellow; because of the low lighting. Musuems are able to offer nice photos, because they can bring in tripods and studio lighting to make the artwork look as it should.
But under the real technical copyright law, museum photos are already available to the public. The only photos of artwork that are copyrighted are of sculptures or when the artwork is shown in context of the room. If the photo is just a straight-up photo of the painting--no extra walls or floors in the shot--then technically, you are allowed to use that photo. It's just that most museums hold a tighter grasp on their images than the law allows.
Allowing free art images is a value to everyone.
- For the public: art is more readily available.
- For the museum: the more art is shared, the more valuable it becomes.
- For the artist: the ideals and message in the art reaches a wider audience.
- For the collector: (see museum reasoning above). Often collectors want to hoard in fear of their art becoming less valuable if others use the image. But the more an image is used, the more recognizable the artwork is, and the more valuable it becomes. Take a look at "American Gothic" by Grant Wood. It's a beloved piece, because it's shared so much.
I never understand why art museums don't want people to take photos of their work. Don't you want your work promoted? Don't you want free advertising? What, so some people might not buy a postcard? Please. If you hoard your artworks where nobody can access them, then you might as well have your museum be in a hole.
Art museums need to ask themselves an important question: As a museum are you open or closed? If you are closed, then just close your doors and don't let anyone in the museum. Only let important collectors and curators in. But if you are open, then yes, let people take photos of the artwork. Let people mix the photos into new artworks. Let people put the photos online. Let innovation rule. We have the public domain for a reason. To let innovation happen.
Last time I checked art and innovation went hand in hand.
(Pictured above is Chinese Lion Dance (Shishimai) Japan, 19th century
from the LACMA free collection.)